My group at work recently provided for its members an opportunity to attend a Get Motivated seminar. Among the noted speakers were Robert Schuller, Rudy Guilliani, and Steve Forbes. I have a strong, perhaps unique and maybe errant inclination towards cynicism in regards to such positive-thinking schemes, and I carried that cynicism with me to the seminar.
While we did not attend the entirety of the seminar before retiring to a local restaurant for a meal, one which I enjoyed, I came away from this team building exercise with some thoughts that validated my ingrained cynicism. I also came away with some perceptions and insights. In all the ‘three steps to success’ and ‘dream it and achieve it’ exhortations being pandered to the massive auditorium full of starry-eyed salespeople and entrepreneurs, I could, with little imagination, picture myself in typical Joel Osteenesque mega-church where the greatest sin perhaps is not living up to your potential and achieving your dreams. With tangible irony, Schuller, a minister ostensibly of the Protestant faith, his church financially and spiritually bankrupt, was the first to speak. While trotting out iterations of his thread-bare “If you can dream it, you can do it!” schtick, I was thinking to myself, you are lying, you bankrupt minister. Try hard as they might, not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Sometimes life, Providence, puts you in a place from which you cannot escape. Preach your positive-thinking to an inner-city gang of youths and tell me how it floats with them. Try motivating someone impoverished in Africa, dying of AIDS. Trot out your spiel in North Korea. Such positive-thinking rhetoric only works for those who really have a chance at your definition of success to begin with. It offers no hope, or false hope to many.
What I mulled over, also, was the meaning of success in this success-drenched circus. The making of more money was always an underlying goal, and not necessarily a bad one. Success was at times defined as having lofty goals and putting plans in place to achieve them, perhaps despite daunting obstacles, and again, not necessarily a bad thing. We were given three steps to achieve this and five steps to achieve that, and until then, it had never dawned on me that this uniquely American vision of success was apparently so easy as to be distilled into kindergarten platitudes. I mentally palmed myself on the forehead upon that epiphany. But what I really arrived at was the conclusion that, by their definition of success, I am a loser. I have no overarching goals other than to work with my mind and hands to provide for my family, perhaps enjoy the fruits of my labor now and again, and help those in need. I have no goals or desires of ticking off entries on some bucket list. I want to live honestly, not worrying about money because I have little to worry about (at least my American standards – big picture – I am stinking filthy rich). If you say you trust in a God Who says He will provide for His children’s basic necessities, then you should be content with that.
Having money to retire on was a goal spoken of at times. As I look back down the corridors of the past, I dawns on me that only in recent western history has the concept of not having to work during your latter productive years so has to enjoy a perennial vacation been the common expectation. We either put money aside to retire on, sacrificing during our now for a hoped-for leisurely later, or our employer pays a lifelong pension. Again, retirement is fine, but it not an entitlement. It never has been over the course of history. I think of that laying up of treasures on earth with the rust and moths and thieves thing the Jewish King and carpenter spoke of. While it is wise and prudent to put aside money for a rainy day and hard times, do we really need to plan on not having to work for thirty years? I will work till I cannot. There is, I think, honor in that. Without regard to the market, I refuse to worry about money or spend substantial amount of time thinking about it. If that makes me a failure, I will wear that label proudly. I could pontificate ad nausea, but enough for now……
Part of a pastors, an under-shepherd’s responsibility to the flock to protect it from ravenous wolves. If the under-shepherd does not have the ability to discern between a fellow shepherd and a wolf, then the sheep will suffer. Following is a quote from the blog of Perry Noble, pastor of NewSpring Community Church.
“I have a philosophy of ministry that I used to not have-here it is, I can learn something valuable from any ministry that God is blessing-period!
I want to learn from people who do ministry differently than me…and it is amazing to me how stupid and insecure pastors and church leaders are when it comes to this.
For example-anytime I mention TD Jakes or Joel Osteen on this website we have idiots e-mail in with their “concerns” about issues in regards to their theology or teaching style. (As if the person e-mailing is perfect and has it all figured out!)
BUT, I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I have an incredible amount of respect for both of those men. God is blessing their ministries in an incredible way…and I know there are tons of things that I could learn from them. Just because you are trying to learn something from someone doesn’t mean that you believe exactly like them!
(And for those who feel like you can only learn from just like you…please repent to God for being shallow and ridiculous!)
By the way-I’ve had the privilege of meeting Joel…but haven’t gotten to have lunch with Bishop Jakes yet…if anyone can make that connection I would be much obliged!!! (I’m serious!”)
I have some thoughts and questions, mostly rhetorical in nature, on the aforementioned.
- First, as per an earlier post, I am concerned about the ‘deeds, not creeds’ mentality that seems to infect so many churches. Deeds and doctrine go hand in hand. One ignores either at ones peril. The preceding quote seems to be, at least peripherally, an outgrowth of an anti-creedal, or anti-doctrinal, sentiment.
- Second, how does one discern that a ministry is being blessed by God? Is the number of people drawn to a ministry the only litmus test for Divine sanction? Just because a church or ministry is large and may do good works, does that necessarily infer that it is healthy?
- Third, is it appropriate for one to question an under-shepherd’s theology or teaching style? Is theology and teaching style important? Are there biblically sanctioned and biblically prohibited theologies and forms of teaching style and worship? Does the church sometime unwittingly engage strange fire?
- Fourth, how do we approach, as disciples of Christ, those who are in error, be they an under- shepherd or one whom the under-shepherd is charged with protecting? Do we approach an young, immature disciple of Christ who may hold error differently that how we would approach on who teaches, one who shepherds, one who wields great influence over others?
There are surface tensions in scripture about harboring a judgmental attitude verses the call to judge righteously. That being said, the Old and New Testament is absolutely rich with calls to discern, to be Bereans, to be on the watch for false teachers. A young minister, one whom I hold in high esteem, once stated in a sermon that it is not always easy to identify the wolves that prey on the flock. They do not wear name-tags that state they are teachers of error. Their books do not come with warning labels as to which chapters are unbiblical. The ministries of those whose message is questioned may sometimes benefit the poor and needy. They may be of benefit to the community. Can we, or should we, ignore error because the good they do? What is the difference between error and heresy? The interesting thing about most wolves is that they are not always wrong in all the teach all the time. They may actually have an edifying word or two at times. Therein lies the need for the gift of discernment.
In speaking to the questions raised in the preceding paragraph, perhaps a word or two is in order specifically concerning T.D Jakes and Joel Osteen, the two men mentioned in the blog quote at the start of this post. There are many who strongly suspect that T.D. Jakes rejects the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. Rather, he seems to adopt a modalist view wherein that God sometimes acts as Father, sometimes acts as Son, and sometimes acts as Holy Spirit, the doctrinal position of the Oneness Pentecostal Church to which Jakes has been affiliated. His recent views seems, to me, at very best, to equivocate a bit on this subject. Is the doctrine of the Trinity important? The Gospel looses coherency without this Biblical doctrine. Historically, the church calls those who reject the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity heretics. Beyond Jake’s beliefs of the Trinitarian nature being called into question, Jake also seems to flirt strongly with the prosperity gospel and preaches a psychology driven human-centric message. More could be said on Jakes, but for the sake of brevity, I will move on the Joel Osteen.
Before I proceed, understand without doubt that I am not questioning Osteen’s (or Jakes), status as a true Christian. It is not my job to make that judgment. However, I strongly and without any reservation whatsoever question Osteen’s and Jake’s overarching message. Also, I have listened to Osteen’s messages as well as read the thoughts of others on Osteen. I have also listened to a bit to Jakes as well as reading what others have to say about him. That all being said, Osteen preaches another Gospel; he preaches an ear tickling human-centric message. He seems to reckon sin to be merely a falling short of our God-given potential. He has, on more than on occasion and on national television, at best waffled, and at worst, denied that Christ is the only way to the Father. The pastor of what may be the largest congregation in the world fails absolutely to present the clear message of the Gospel on national television. He, too, embraces a health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel. His God, his Creator, seems to exist to serve and bless the created rather than the other way around. His is the gospel of Anthony Roberts baptized with an occasional Bible verse. Again, for the sake of brevity (so much more could be said), I will conclude articulating my thoughts on Jakes and Osteen.
The pastor whom I quote at the beginning of this post has on multiple occasions, both on his blog and from the stage of his church, expressed disdain for those who want to ‘go deeper’. Pastors influence. Pastors with a big stage, with a big congregation, with a big budget, exert a substantial influence. There is horrific danger to the church when the under-shepherd points his flock to the wolves and say to his flock, “I want to embrace and learn from the wolves!” Such an attitude implies that heresy is benign. Such a pastor, one who calls those in his flock who have questions about a false teacher idiots, will not ultimately answer to the flock or the wolves but to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. With great influence comes great accountability.
\Rant mode off.
Here are a couple of links from IX Marks that may be of interests:
In closing, discernment is not so much as being able to tell right from wrong, but more right from almost right.